“The worst ones were when serious abuse happened literally feet from the property line”
Inuit children from the western Arctic gather outside a residential school in this undated file photo. A dozen or so former students from the North have had their compensation claims denied for a variety of technicalities under the federal settlement agreement. (FLEMMING/NWT ARCHIVES: N-1979-050-0101)
The federal government has promised to look into an estimated 1,000 compensation claims made by residential school survivors that were rejected due to an administrative glitch.
The problem hinges on an “administrative split,” created in the 1950s and 1960s, when the federal government began operating certain residential schools, while leaving others to be operated by religious organizations.
Under the Independent Assessment Process, one element of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, former students who suffered sexual or serious physical abuse can apply for compensation.
The administrative technicality, which limits compensation to those abused on federal property, has now left many former students empty-handed.
That specific glitch doesn’t extend as far as Nunavut, or into other northern territories where Inuit attended residential schools, which remained largely under the control of the federal government.
Still, anywhere between 10 and 20 Inuit applicants in Nunavut have been denied compensation under IAP for other technicalities, said Steven Cooper, an Edmonton-based lawyer who has represented former residential school students for nearly two decades.
“The worst ones were when serious abuse happened literally feet from the property line,” Cooper said. “The other one where abuse took place… and we’re not entirely sure, but it involved nothing other than students in residences.”
In one case he’s familiar with, the alleged abuse happened in an igloo just outside the school’s premises.
“I hate the fact that those who did not get compensation because they were abused in the wrong place,” Cooper said. “It really bothers me.”
Some of those cases will be reviewed, he added.
Generally speaking, a few years into the process, the uptake for IAP claims from Inuit former students has been slower than that of their First Nations and Métis counterparts, he said.
As the IAP process winds down, Inuit have made up a tiny fraction of the IAP claims among former students; in 2015, Inuit made up 0.02 per cent of claims, although Inuit represent 4.2 per cent of all Indigenous Canadians.
However, it’s hard to say for sure, because it’s unclear how many eligible Inuit residential school survivors there were in the first place.
When the residential school settlement was launched, it was estimated that at least 3,000 Nunavummiut had attended residential schools.
Present day Nunavut was home to 13 residential schools, while four operated in Nunavik and three in the Northwest Territories.
Cooper said the residential school settlement process has been a good system, for the most part.
“When the first hearings were held in 2007, there was a general willingness on the part of the government to accept reasonable claims and not get too technical,” he said. “As the parties found their feet, it seemed that the government lawyers and their resolution managers started to dig their heels in.”
“So what started to happen was that certain types of cases resulted in no compensation, for a variety of reasons.”
Since its creation in 2007, the IAP has paid out about $3 billion to more than 32,000 former students.
The IAP is a claimant-centred process, in which former students must show harm occurred at a listed school or hostel they attended.
The IAP also operates separately from the Common Experience Payment, another compensation program which was available to anyone who attended residential school.
All Nunavut-based IAP hearings should be done in the next couple of months, Cooper said, although files may remain open for another six to eight months due to delays and appeals.